Dean Hirsch, president of World Vision International, visited Myanmar's cyclone-devastated delta region earlier this month to witness devastation as well as survivors' extraordinary resilience.
Dean Hirsch, right, and another World Vision worker stand with Ma Than Nwe, a storm survivor and mother of five who lost all of her material belongings in the disaster.
Photo ©2008 World Vision staff
"Access is an incredible challenge," said Dean Hirsch, president of World Vision International, during his visit to Myanmar's cyclone-devastated peninsula earlier this month.
"Many places can only be reached by boat … when we finally reached the villages, there was total destruction with nothing left standing. The winds and storm surge wiped out everything."
Hirsch visited the towns of Bogale and Pyapon in the heart of the Irrawaddy Delta, where thousands lost their lives, livelihoods, and homes when Cyclone Nargis hit.
Aid getting through
Relief for South Asia
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In spite of current and future challenges, aid is arriving into the heart of the delta.
"I saw relief supplies getting to the people, warehouses and distributions running efficiently, and trucks loaded with supplies making their way to the delta," said Hirsch. "However, more needs to be done. Some people have not had any contact with the international humanitarian community yet."
Hirsch's team also visited the village of Nyi Naung Wa, where he witnessed the incredible resilience and industry of villagers, despite the wreckage around them.
"People who had lost everything were using bamboo to bridge across flooded paths and roads," he recalled. "The resilience of the people stands out — they are looking for what they can [do] to start rebuilding their lives and communities."
He also noted that the scale of devastation, and the physical impact of the storm, has prompted a tireless and remarkable aid effort by Buddhist monasteries, community organizations, and aid agencies.
"The 500-plus World Vision staff on the ground in Myanmar when the cyclone struck made a huge difference," Hirsch added. "Our staff already had relationships with affected communities, [and they are] working in partnership to address their needs now and in the future."
World Vision has been able to provide emergency assistance to some 288,500 survivors across seven townships in the Delta region so far, working hand-in-hand with local groups and organizations.
Dean Hirsch stands with a team of World Vision relief workers in Myanmar.
Photo ©2008 World Vision staff
In Pyapon, the team attended a Child-Friendly Space
set up by World Vision's Myanmar relief team. It is one of 44 safe areas supporting the physical and emotional well-being of an estimated 7,000 children who survived the massive storm.
Child-Friendly Spaces also offer informal education opportunities; however, restoring educational facilities remains a major challenge for communities and aid agencies — 4,000 schools were damaged or destroyed by the cyclone.
"It's important that children return to school," Hirsch said. "But there is a shortage of infrastructure and space to support this. Children also continue to need adequate shelter, mosquito nets, and sanitation facilities to help prevent disease."
While some communities still need vital assistance, the team also met villagers eager to return to their land to try to take advantage of the planting season that ends soon.
"Another great need now is for people to be able to plant rice fields, which means they need seeds and tools," he continued. "Many families have also lost vital livestock. World Vision will work in the long term to help people restore their livelihoods."
'Thank you for your faithfulness'
Hirsch also had a clear message to all those who have already given generously to relief efforts. "Thank you for your faithfulness," he said. "Thank you for your gifts that are making a difference here in Myanmar … I urge you to remain committed to our efforts, as we remain committed to these communities."
To those working hand-in-hand with the devastated communities, Hirsch also expressed gratitude: "I'm very proud of the team and all the work that they've done. I've heard from many people that World Vision is bringing them hope."
>> Read more
about World Vision's response to the devastating cyclone that struck Myanmar in May.
Three ways you can help
>> Please pray for the survivors of deadly Cyclone Nargis. Pray that relief organizations like World Vision can continue to work hand-in-hand with local communities and groups to quickly provide relief to desperate children and families.
>> Donate now to help provide relief for survivors of the cyclone. Your contribution will help World Vision provide emergency aid to children and families devastated by this disaster.
>> Give monthly to help World Vision deliver emergency aid to children and families in the wake of disasters around the world, like the recent cyclone in Myanmar.